Freshfields split over ‘London imperialism’

A split has emerged in the senior ranks of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer over how far to internationalise the firm’s management. The issue is on the agenda of the firm’s partnership council this Thursday (18 December).

Speaking to The Lawyer last week, the firm’s German co-senior partner elect Konstantin Mettenheimer said he would like all levels of the management to be more representative of the firm’s global spread.

He said he had already discussed the issue with partners and a consultation committee, which is looking at the firm’s management structure.

However, senior London sources said they would firmly oppose attempts to insist that the firm’s management system be reformed to make it more representative. “What you want is the best man for the job, regardless of nationality,” insisted one source.

A legacy of the Freshfields Deringer-Bruckhaus merger is that the firm’s management structure has joint Anglo-German practice group heads and co-senior partners from the two jurisdictions.

The dual system, which leaves around a third of the firm unrepresented at a senior level, was intended as an interim measure.

The abolition of the co-senior partner structure was discussed by the consultation committee, which chose Mettenheimer and his London counterpart Anthony Salz as nominees for the senior partner role earlier this year. However, the idea was rejected as premature.

Mettenheimer said: “I think it’s really important that whatever management grouping we have in central management – in the partnership council, in our practice committees – that it’s a proper reflection of the firm.

“For a Frenchman, it may not be terribly appealing to see an Englishman and a German [as co-heads], and we need to reflect that.”

The issue is a thorny one for all City firms with an international network. One senior City partner queried: “How do you get over the problem that the whole firm is very London-centric [and that] you are perpetuating this London imperialism?”